CENTRAL POINT — There’s a lot of excitement in the Crater High hallways these days, but it goes well beyond the Comets’ second-seeded boys basketball team and what has been an historic campaign thus far.
Through all the hysteria in the boys team’s ability to secure a first conference championship in 28 years and trip to the Class 5A state tournament for the first time since 2009, the Crater girls have found themselves somewhat in the shadows.
But the fact that the Crater girls secured their own spot in the 5A state tourney with a 65-58 upset victory at Wilsonville last Friday is a big story, and just as worthy of fanfare.
“I’m really proud of (Crater boys basketball coach Chris Schmerbach) and those boys are fantastic,” said Crater girls basketball coach Scott Dippel on the eve of his team’s trip to Corvallis. “It’s been great for us to support them and play a lot of those games with them where they’re rooting for us and we’re rooting for them. It’s pretty special to have two teams at the tournament, there’s not a lot of time that you can do that.”
In the case of Crater High, this is actually the first time that both its boys and girls basketball teams have reached the final site.
“I think whenever you get a chance to go and play on a college court and with that level of competition, it’s special to every kid,” said Dippel. “From the kid who starts to the one who’s the 12th kid on the bench, it’s just a special experience and i’m just glad that we can be a part of it.”
Dippel’s Comets boast a 21-5 record and are the only double-digit seed at No. 10 to make the state quarterfinals, which begin Tuesday with Crater squaring off against defending 5A champion and No. 2 seed La Salle Prep (21-4). That game tips off at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday in Gill Coliseum.
“Not a lot of people gave us a shot to beat Wilsonville, and I think our girls are past the point now of being intimidated, which is a great place to be,” said Dippel. “I think they’re confident enough in themselves to be prepared, but La Salle’s a fun team to watch and they are incredibly talented, not just at all starting spots, but their bench is strong, too.”
The Crater girls may not be getting their full due this year simply because of the program’s continued success, especially under the direction of David Heard and his two-time successor Dippel.
While the Crater boys have only two state trophies to their name — fourth at 4A in 1990 and sixth at 5A in 2009 — the Crater girls earned their eighth trophy last season by placing sixth in the 5A tourney. During the Comets’ heyday, they finished as the state runner-up in 1998, 2000 and 2001 at the state’s highest classification.
This will be Dippel’s first appearance as head coach at the state tourney, although he was Heard’s top assistant during the latter’s best years, and the fact that the Crater girls have reached this point is extraordinary considering the Comets lost seven players from last year’s squad and didn’t appoint Dippel as interim head coach until late last spring.
In fact, albeit without all its pieces, Crater was only able to win six games over the summer season, said Dippel, as he prepared for his one season as head coach.
“From that, I started to kind of get a feel for who we were,” said Dippel. “So much of coaching is figuring out who you are and figuring out your own team, and I really have in my starting five a shooting guard and four kind of forward-guard spots. There’s no real true one (point guard) and no real true five (center).”
And, honestly, that’s been just fine for the Comets. Their versatility and team balance has allowed them to continue to grow throughout this season, making them an interesting darkhorse for another state trophy this week.
“I feel like, at the place we’re at right now, we’re going into the tournament playing as good of basketball as we have all year,” added Dippel, whose team is joined in the state tourney by Midwestern League champion Marist and runner-up Springfield.
Crater junior Sydney Gray leads the Comets in almost every statistical category, with the versatile 5-foot-9 standout averaging 9.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals.
“Sydney Gray is about as even of a kid across the board with her balanced play as you can find,” said Dippel. “She can just do everything.”
Maya Van Hook, a 5-7 junior, has gained confidence and taken her game to another level since midway through the season and is now averaging 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals to help complement Gray and senior leaders Alexus Woodard (8.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.4 assists) and Mackenzie Ryerson (7.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 steals).
Nehkyah Ellis, a 5-11 junior, has provided the Comets a unique force on offense with her ability to knock down 3-pointers, and she’s been an unsung hero on defense with 3.4 blocks per game to go with her innate understanding of where to be in order to help her teammates. She’s averaging 4.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game.
Dippel has been especially pleased with the contributions off the bench, most notably by 5-3 junior Eliza Idiart, 6-2 sophomore Averi Young, 5-8 sophomore Kayana Woodard and 5-4 sophomore Presley Robison.
“One of the things I learned when I coached for several years with David is the piece about advantages,” said Dippel. “You have to find where your advantage is and then you just keep going with it until they stop it. The nice thing with this team is you’re able to find an advantage and go for it, and if that gets taken away we’re versatile enough to find another one and try to take advantage of that.”
That versatility extends on the defensive end, where the Comets take pride in their ability to challenge in many ways — a capacity that has developed through a season-long learning process.
“A lot of it was just the girls getting comfortable with understanding they’re going to be playing in a different position in different sets and different situations,” said Dippel. “That to me is a lot to ask a kid, so the biggest surprise for me is their ability to adjust and be successful knowing that one day not only am I preparing for an opponent but now I’m preparing to play the 3 and last game I was a 4.”
All of that will be necessary Tuesday against a La Salle squad that features 5-9 senior Taycee Wedin (20.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.3 steals) but has plenty of depth and tournament experience. La Salle has won 16 straight games since a 35-32 setback against 6A North Medford on Dec. 29.
Other key Falcons include 5-10 sophomore Kylie Burg (11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists), 5-8 sophomore Emily Niebergall (9.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.2 steals), 5-10 freshman Addison Wedin (8.3 points. 2.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals) and 5-10 senior Colby Jansen (7.1 points, 4.1 rebounds).
“When you watch them you notice their energy,” said Dippel of the Falcons, “and they’re very well-coached, so if you make an adjustment, they’ve got an adjustment already for it.”
One adjustment Dippel isn’t yet ready to entertain is his interim coaching status. He was initially approached to fill in this one season until the program could find a long-term solution.
“These girls have made it an enjoyable year back, let’s just say that,” added Dippel, who also serves as Hanby Middle School principal and has three daughters under the age of 12.
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry